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Peptide-antibody Fusions Engineered by Phage Display Exhibit Ultrapotent and Broad Neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 Variants

By Jonathan M Labriola, Shane Miersch, Gang Chen, Chao Chen, Alevtina Pavlenco, Francesca Pisanu, Francesca Caccuri, Alberto Zani, Nitin Sharma, Annie Feng, Daisy W. Leung, Arnaldo Caruso, Gaya K Amarasinghe, Sachdev Sidhu

Posted 30 Nov 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.11.29.470362

The COVID-19 pandemic has been exacerbated by the emergence of variants of concern (VoCs). Many VoC mutations are found in the viral spike protein (S-protein), and are thus implicated in host infection and response to therapeutics. Bivalent neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) targeting the S-protein receptor-binding domain (RBD) are promising therapeutics for COVID-19, but are limited due to low potency and vulnerability to RBD mutations found in VoCs. To address these issues, we used naive phage-displayed peptide libraries to isolate and optimize 16-residue peptides that bind to the RBD or the N-terminal domain (NTD) of the S-protein. We fused these peptides to the N-terminus of a moderate affinity nAb to generate tetravalent peptide-IgG fusions, and showed that both classes of peptides were able to improve affinities for the S-protein trimer by >100-fold (apparent KD <1 pM). Critically, cell-based infection assays with a panel of six SARS-CoV-2 variants demonstrate that an RBD-binding peptide was able to enhance the neutralization potency of a high-affinity nAb >100-fold. Moreover, this peptide-IgG was able to neutralize variants that were resistant to the same nAb in the bivalent IgG format. To show that this approach is general, we fused the same peptide to a clinically approved nAb drug, and showed that it rescued neutralization against a resistant variant. Taken together, these results establish minimal peptide fusions as a modular means to greatly enhance affinities, potencies, and breadth of coverage of nAbs as therapeutics for SARS-CoV-2.

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